I have wanted to write for weeks, but lacked time or mental disponibility. Yet, now I am here, I can’t remember any of the things which were burning my fingertips. Writing in English this evening feels like learning ice-skating: a graceless muscle-wringing exercise, where not falling flat on the face is the best one can hope for. Maybe with a quasi-haiku?

Wisteria petals
Bees on the wing
Spring’s last breath

A few months ago, I was getting used to the idea that this Spring would be my first without gardening. New job (alas temporary), children and lack of sleep would make sure of that. After last year’s changes to the layout, which I hesitate to call major as they would make any owner of a bigger garden smile, I consoled myself with the thought my plants would probably welcome the absence of an ever restless gardener, always intent on moving them at the wrong time of the year. Then came the virus which threw society upside down. And so, this Spring, between the morning live lessons on Teams and the afternoon sessions on Zoom, I am a bit pleasantly surprised to find myself sitting on the chair near the shed, bathing in honey wisteria scent, picking up jewel-like beetles from the rosemary bush.

It is hot. Midday buzzes. My arms and hands, browner by the minute, already look like someone else’s – a seafarer’s, maybe.

On my left stands a big pot housing eight purple alliums just about to burst open. They clearly benefitted from the loose compost which kept them dry over winter. Suddenly, an urge seizes me to excavate them. The next minute, I am praying to find suitable gaps in the Summer border in which to plant them. Surrounded by orange geum flowers and the surging foliage of bronze fennel, verbena, globe thistle and love-in-the-mist, the alliums’ heads now seem to float in a feathery cloud. For the first time, I feel this is actually what I was waiting for, an effect of density yet lightness with pops of bright colours. The self-seeded aquilegias, nodding from the height of their long stalks, soon join the scene.

Photo 18-05-2020 12 13 46 cropped

Ants are drawing abstract patterns around my chair. Hardly noticeable in the past, they started to favour our garden two years ago and have since multiplied. Somehow, I tend to see ants as equals and therefore respect them, but am unconvinced they don’t harm plants with their tunnelling and particularly resent them undermining my efforts with aphids. I tried to discourage them last year (euphemism). I soon learnt there was no way I could win that battle and I let them rule the garden, only fighting them on aphid-infested plants. Songbirds, who sometimes come and help, are the gods I pray to, these days. Among them, my regular visitors are Nenette (Mrs Blackbird), her more discreet husband, and one or two handful of chatty sparrows. Starlings and tits are scarcer this year. The beloved song thrush only paid me one elusive visit, a long time ago, but we were lucky enough to hear and see it near the railway line. Last year’s disciplinary action against the ivy has deprived us of the robin’s nest, yet the blackbirds are still busy in the firethorn. Not everybody is elegant and vivacious. The woodpigeons, for instance, I find noisy, clumsy and rude. Everytime I see them, a Southwestern French dish with rich plum sauce comes to mind. As for the jackdaws who live in our chimneys, who clearly are thinking birds, I can well picture them in the study, their sky blue eye scanning some old map or treatise of philosophy. Between them and the three pretty frogs (Nouille and the two smaller Nouillettes) who live in our pond, we feel blessed. And then there is Sir Isaac’s wife, who, you’ll have to agree, is a lady of great beauty.

Photo 16-04-2020 15 35 06

The day I took the picture below, something was beckoning, asking to be written. Something was in that afternoon’s amber glow.

Photo 16-05-2020 16 53 42

The garden seemed to have reached a state of self-expression, to have found its language, my clumsy, random efforts slowly absorbed in the growth. I have many plants to thank for that, but probably none as much as the euphorbias – two plants only, growing under the ceanothus (plus two minute cuttings), a euphorbia characias wulfenii and a fancy thing named Ascot Rainbow which has been absolutely gorgeous all Winter and even more since it has flowered. The happy voisinage of their lime green flowers with the purple honesty was a source of joy, and now, it somehow even agrees with the viburnum plicatum’s white lace.

Like the fennel in the Summer bed, their volume and shape help create this impression of a vaporous mass. I think I may have found the word for my desired garden : I want it to be a cloud, enveloping me with height, volume, lightness, blurry lines, luminosity. Opening before the path like the sea parting for the Hebrews. Not so easy when the garden is small and very narrow.

I was helped by the pleasant surprise of Shasta daisies (below), almost as tall as me, grown from a packet of “Mixed White Flowers” seeds sown last year.

They bring an air of wind-ruffled fields to my small border. To think I used to dislike daisy-like flowers, assuming a taste for complex and blousy blooms showed desirable sophistication. I shrug when people advise me to make my French prose more widely acceptable by shortening my sentences and banning words a regular twelve-year-old wouldn’t use daily (why on Earth ? Plenty of people write that sort of things with an absence of second thoughts which is necessary to make it readable. I admire simplicity greatly, but it isn’t achieved by the process described). However, in my garden, experience definitely taught me to enjoy the truthfulness of very simple flowers, their powerful innocence. Actually, I think it is an English thing, a mistrust of complexity seen as a sure sign of moral decadence – frivolity, superficiality, or worse. A well-engrained rest of puritanism which has seeped into my judgement.

Yet, what was vibrating under that late afternoon’s thin golden veil was something else, something coming at the same time from incredibly far and from deep within. If the good weather holds during this half-term holiday, I may endeavour to dip my pen in the sunshine and try to capture some of it.

Photo 23-05-2020 10 56 56
The garden this morning

And one for the road : the beauty of self-seeders.

 

 

15 thoughts on “Cloud garden

  1. Je viens de passer un merveilleux moment dans ton charmant jardin. Comme toujours j’ai l’impression qu’il est immense parce qu’il est généreux et structuré de façon à donner l’impression d’une grande promenade.
    Par contre mon anglais limité m’empêche de tout comprendre malgré mes effort 😉 il va falloir m’expliquer cet énorme têtard dont la vie me semble menacée par la présence des oiseaux…?
    Merci pour ce moment de grâce et de sérénité, les jardiniers sont toujours des poètes et des philosophes, mais je savais déjà que tu l’étais.

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    1. Merci Almanito de venir te promener chez moi ! Les photos sont souvent trompeuses sur les proportions, mon jardin est vraiment petit, mais il y a beaucoup de variété, des sortes de micro-paysages. L’énorme têtard est une femelle triton, qui nous réjouit beaucoup, mais qui malheureusement mange les têtards et les oeufs de grenouille. Elle laisse les grenouilles adultes tranquilles, cela dit, et nous en avons trois dans notre mini mare ! 🙂

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  2. Ha voilà, je me demandais pourquoi il était si gros et hors de l’eau 😉 Alors je te rassure, je viens de lire que les grenouilles en retour se régalent des larves de tritons, y a pas de raison, non mais! 😉

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      1. Even in California, they are remarkably adaptable to climate. Those in the Mojave desert bloom early and briefly. In this region, they just finished bloom about a week or two ago. Where they get water, they continue for quite a while. They probably last even later there because of the humidity.

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  3. What a gorgeous late spring border, and writing to match! So gracefully described and beautifully photographed! I loved the haiku. And the feeling of luminosity, of being in a cloud comes through even through the pictures, I can imagine how lovely it must be in reality. I love the combination of orange, purple and light green that is so prominent in your border and it’s true that the euphorbia and viburnum seem a good company for each other. Is this a sprinkler of forget-me-nots? They are now fully gone where we are.. I am happy to see that your namesakes the frogs are doing well 🙂 Please write in English more often, there are people out there waiting for your beautiful posts. Google translate seems to agree about your French sentences :-))) but what kind of reason is that to simplify?!

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    1. Thank you dear Katya for your very kind words ! ♥️ Yes it was forget-me-nots, but I have pulled them now. It is so very dry here, we haven’t had rains for two months, plants are struggling a bit now. Do you know, I have bought Black Russian tomato seeds after you wrote about them and have just potted them now. I know I am too late, especially without a greenhouse, but if we get a hot summer… I can still hope. Tomatoes grow so quickly, don’t they ! I think of you often in my garden and especially when dealing with tomatoes ! I now have 10 Black Russians and a number of Vittoria cherry tomatoes from supermarket bought tomatoes. I have no suitable bigger pots nor space for them, haha, and I remember your tomato explosion of last year (how many did you have already, 70 ?). I hope you can write a blogpost soon, would love to know how you are getting on ! Xxx

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      1. So nice to hear you are also growing Black Russians! I do hope you will like them. The colour is an acquired taste but they are so meaty and full of flavour! Fewer seeds than usual for your son to pull out 😀 I am pretty sure they will do well outside (they did for me last year and this summer is supposed to be even hotter!) and it’s definitely not too late. They can go all the way to the end of September! And they don’t really need huge pots, the overflow that ended up on my balcony last year (yes, I did have 75 or so!) were in 37cm in diameter pots and did fine. This year I am growing three Black Russians and some other kinds that my Italian neighbour doesn’t appreciate 🙈 So we really can’t go away this summer, he won’t look after them… And I also often think of you, even if I don’t garden, I just love your writing so much.

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  4. Grâce à votre blog, je finirai par faire des progrès en compréhension de l’anglais écrit. Je déploie en effet toutes mes pauvres facultés pour saisir le sens de l’écrit, et heureusement les photos sont ma récompense. J’adore visiter les jardins, si bien photographiés par leurs heureux propriétaires.

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    1. Que ces photos sont jolies, Frog. Et que ton anglais est beau et mignon, même si je n’en comprend que le tiers ou le quart !

      Ton jardin est une merveille.

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    2. Merci Abagendo de votre lecture et de votre commentaire ! C’est vrai que ce sont les photos qui intéressent davantage dans un article de jardinage !

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